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Bill prohibiting SFPD review of press phone calls clears hurdle

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A bill that would prevent the San Francisco Police Department from looking at the phone records of press members working in an office within The City’s Hall of Justice was approved by a Board of Supervisors’ committee Thursday.

The proposed ordinance comes as a response to reports, which surfaced last year, that in 2003, San Francisco police personnel reviewed the phone records of reporters who worked on a story about an alleged attack on two men involving Officer Alex Fagan Jr., son of then-Assistant Chief Alex Fagan Sr.

Fagan Jr. was eventually acquitted of the felony charges, in a scandal that became known as “Fajitagate,” since the brawl was allegedly over a to-go bag of Mexican food.

The measure, authored by Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval, would prohibit the Police Department from looking at records of city telephones at the Hall of Justice provided for use by the press, except as authorized by search warrant or subpoena.

To keep the records out of the hands of the Police Department, the legislation mandates that the bills would be sent to San Francisco’s Department of Administrative Services.

The measure was unanimously passed by the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee on Thursday, by Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi, Sean Elsbernd and Tom Ammiano.

SFPD Capt. John Hennessey, who oversees work in the investigation bureau, told the supervisors at the meeting that his unit fully supported the change, noting that the department “had nothing to hide.”

“Also, as a point of clarification,” Hennessey continued, “nobody listened in on a phone line, nobody tapped into conversations, it was merely the Police Department looking at bills.”

After the meeting, Sandoval said that although he suspected that phone records had been reviewed on more than the one occasion, he was not trying to be critical of the department. The pressroom’s phone records should never have been in the possession of the police, he added.

“You can’t hand cheese in front of a mouse and not have them eat it. That’s our fault,” Sandoval said.

The legislation will go before the full Board of Supervisors for final approval.

beslinger@examiner.com

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